NEW BEDFORD — South Coast legislators have requested the State Pier redevelopment project be restarted and for a state review of the decision-making process, stating it was secretive and lacking in transparency, per a letter they sent Monday to the state’s secretary of economic development.

“Before anything final in the way of a binding agreement is done … we think this information should cause everyone at the agency level to pause, reflect and hopefully restart a very publicly engaged process which would be quite different from what has occurred,” state Rep. William Straus told The Light on Tuesday.


MassDevelopment, a quasi-public entity with a board appointed by the governor, manages the 8-acre, state-owned pier on New Bedford’s waterfront. It oversaw the request for proposals to redevelop the site, and announced its selection of Taber’s Wharf Partners, a conglomerate of five companies, in late December after putting out a request for project proposals in April of 2022. 

The selection was lauded by the city, with plans calling for a new seafood auction house, retail shops and an operations hub for the offshore wind industry. But it drew criticism from legislators, who filed a public records request and shared some of the emails they obtained with state Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao. 

The legislators — including state Reps. Antonio Cabral, Christopher Hendricks, Christopher Markey and Paul Schmid — assert that MassDevelopment thwarted efforts by officials to obtain more information on the submitted proposals while the decision-making process was underway. The legislators said the public should have had a chance to weigh in on the selection process as it is a state-owned property.

Asked if MassDevelopment was required to hold any public hearings or meetings, Straus said he was unsure, but that he was certain there are no rules prohibiting the agency from doing so. A MassDevelopment spokesperson did not return questions on whether there are requirements for public input during its RFP process. 

Citing the emails, the legislators claim MassDevelopment CEO Dan Rivera misrepresented what stage the agency was at in the RFP process when they inquired. Emails show Rivera wrote to Straus in early November that the process was still under review. Other emails show that in October, MassDevelopment was in talks to enter a provisional agreement with Taber’s Wharf Partners.

Rivera did not respond to a request for comment on the legislators’ letter.

Kelsey Schiller, a spokesperson for MassDevelopment, said by email that they consider the New Bedford delegation to be “critical partners” in the redevelopment of the pier. 

“We followed a fair and robust process to select a development partner for this important project,” she said in an email. “We look forward to continuing to work with all the stakeholders to bring to fruition the development discussion at the pier that started back in 1980.” 

State Sen. Mark Montigny did not sign the joint letter, with counsel Audra Riding stating the senator did not agree with some of its assertions. Montigny did, however, request a public hearing in New Bedford where the public and elected officials can offer feedback on the selected proposal, and see if legislative support will be required to make the selected project financially feasible. 

Straus also said he’d like to see a series of public hearings.

“The vitality of our working waterfront and economic resurgence of our city depends upon economic development projects such as State Pier,” Montigny said in a separate letter to Secretary Hao on Monday, noting the RFP was a step toward that.

“Despite a track record of open communication, MassDevelopment stunningly ceased open communications with my office and the delegation following the RFP publication,” he continued, adding the lack of open communication as it engaged with the city of New Bedford was “inappropriate.” 

The state senator filed an amendment to an economic development bill last year that would have required MassDevelopment to provide an opportunity for public comment, but that bill never made it out of conference, and thus never became law. 

“State Pier is a state-owned asset that will [undoubtedly] require the investment of state resources. The city will not have to spend a penny of its limited capital, yet it was afforded a direct role in selecting the future of this asset,” Montigny wrote. “Such conduct has generated considerable frustration that has also left no meaningful opportunity for the public to weigh in, including commercial fishermen who rely on this infrastructure.”

Eric Hansen, who owns scallopers and sits on the New England Fishery Management Council, said he is concerned about new development, particularly offshore wind operations, squeezing out the fishing industry, which calls on the State Pier frequently for docking and supplies.

“For them to come in and take over what has been historically part of the fishing industry … that squeezes everything down,” he said, noting other development underway in the port to support offshore wind, such as the Foss Terminal.  

Under recent legislative requirements, only up to 20% of the State Pier can be used for offshore wind. 

According to a May proposal from Crowley — one of the selected partners — one pier facility would serve as an operations and maintenance hub for the offshore wind industry, with crew transfer vessels and service operations vessels taking people and supplies to and from the lease areas.

Crowley lost a tenant, “GE Wind,” for the project, according to an email from a MassDevelopment employee attached in the legislators’ letter. Another email from a MassDevelopment employee alleges GE was concerned with the 20% cap on offshore wind activity at the property. 

Ed Washburn, who previously worked for Crowley before joining other project partner Coast Line Transfers, did not respond to questions and a request for comment.

More responsive emails to the records request, shared by Straus, showed several city employees, including Mayor Jon Mitchell, in correspondence on the RFP and provisional agreement with Taber’s Wharf Partners.

Mitchell was not immediately available for an interview. In a December interview with The Light, he shifted blame to the legislators, stating they “have allowed that facility to languish for at least three decades.” 

He also said the city’s role was “advisory” and that it strategically worked to advance redevelopment at the pier.

City spokesperson Holly Huntoon said redevelopment of the state property has been in the works for years, and pointed to a city waterfront land use plan, published in 2016, noting it came together with input from the public and stakeholders. The plan included a vision for the State Pier, with renderings showing retail space on the side abutting the road, as well as a fish auction. 

According to MassDevelopment, the provisional agreement entered in December activated a 180-day period in which the involved parties will identify a detailed development plan, and engage with current and potential users of the property. During this period, the parties will also provide financial statements and estimates, as well as the planned phases of development.

A spokesperson with Secretary Hao’s office said they are reviewing the letter and will be in touch with the delegation. Straus said there is no procedural map to follow regarding a request to restart or review the RFP process with the secretary. 

Email Anastasia E. Lennon at

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 15, 2023, to include comments from Mass Development and the office of the state secretary of Economic Development.

Join the Conversation


  1. Personally I think it is foolish to have economic activity that isn’t essential to be on the pier be located there. I would much rather see more of the port allocated to wind energy than a store. I understand having a fresh fish restaurant so close to the docks does have its advantages, but would it be that difficult to have it located somewhere off Union St. instead? The docks are essential for the fishing industry and for the emerging wind industry. I hope one day I can also say it’s also used to support the wave power industry. I think it would be prudent of the city to remember the future is unknown and once we decide to build something it cannot be taken back. The docks are only so big. Stores and restaurants can literally be located anywhere. The same cannot be said for loading/unloading cargo from ships.

    -Tsunami 🌊

  2. I would also like to add that I think losing GE as an investor in our city is extremely unfortunate. I know there is a lot of hate towards large corporations but they have deep pockets. They are the ones who can lose money for 5-10 years without batting an eye. And a company like GE is going to extremely difficult to replace. I would ask them what percentage of the docks they would need in order to invest in New Bedford. As long as it’s reasonable, I would try and make that happen. Once they are here they aren’t going to leave anytime soon and they may just invest in other properties which in turn would create jobs.

    Think about it.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *